For those who do not know: it is an American mob film portraying a New York-based, Sicilian mafia crime family for a decade from the mid forties and was the first of a trilogy.
Our Godfather at the beginning is portrayed by Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone- engaging every actor’s trick in the books, yet still making his performance seem effortless. By the end of the film the don’s son, Michael, an adverse outsider, has blossomed into the role- if one can do such a thing when becoming the head of a criminal organisation.
Yet Coppola’s brilliance is that “The Godfather” is told wholly within a closed world- we see not a single innocent civilian actually become a victim of organised crime. It is almost a magic trick; There are no victims of theft, fraud or protection rackets. No women are trafficked or trapped in prostitution. There are no gambling syndicates and the only police officer with a meaningful role is corrupt.
Consequently, we sympathize with characters who are essentially bad, wrong… possibly evil… people.
We consider the Mafia on its own terms and begin to sympathise with those who must take action when the rules of this very special moral code are broken.
Don Vito Corleone transpires as both understandable and admirable- throughout the film this law-breaking, murderous criminal does nothing of which we can honestly disapprove. He keeps to the code and is the moral centre of the film- arguing against dealing in drugs as it is not a “victimless crime”.
The world outside of the film does not exist. It is replaced by an authoritarian patriarchy where power is in the hands of the Godfather and justice is his to dispense. Only traitors can be villains as above all else, most importantly, is loyalty to the family.
Vito Corleone’s youngest son, Michael, is not part of the family business and has plans to marry the WASPy, Kay Adams, played by Diane Keaton. A turning point comes when he saves his father’s life by moving his hospital bed, and whispers to the unconscious man: “I’m with you now.” So begins his slide into criminality and his rise to the top of the mob family.
Michael shoots the corrupt policeman, hides in Sicily, falls in love with a girl who cannot speak the same language, looses her and eventually returns to marry Kay in New York. Yet he has chosen a mafia life and she is not part of that.
Such details are unimportant however, just as romantic love is irrelevant- only familial love bares any weight.
The Godfather is structured with such brilliance and the story told with such simplicity, clarity and consideration that the Mafia appears benevolent, that when an old man falls down amongst his tomato vines, a titan has fallen.
After all, everything would have turned out so much better if only we had listened to the Godfather.